In Canada, Chinese Immigrants Find Freedom to Live Their Beliefs

June 29, 2013 Updated: June 28, 2015

TORONTO—A historian who left China after the Tiananmen Square massacre, an IT engineer who never felt comfortable speaking out in his native Hong Kong, and an artist all have had similar experiences upon moving to Canada. Each has flourished amidst the freedom Canada offers, benefitting their new land while expressing their own deepest beliefs in ways they never could in China.

Living His Values

Su Ming, a commentator and a board member of the Federation for a Democratic China (FDC), came to Canada 24 years ago. He said, “Canada took me in and sheltered me, which proved that my philosophies were consistent with the Canadian values. Canada is a free and democratic country, where I can say anything I want to say and keep on criticizing the (Chinese) Communist Party (CCP).”

Before the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, Su Ming was a director of an institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a historian. He said that during the massacre, some of his colleagues were killed, injured, and fled. “[After the Tiananmen Square massacre,] they [the Chinese regime] held me responsible for many of these riot charges.”

However, Su Ming believes that pleading for justice for people is right, and that an intellectual should be a free man who has an independent personality and thinking.

“That is to say, they should speak for the people and play well their role to supervise and criticize the government based on the social point of view and standing on justice, conscience, and morality,” said Su.

“I did things based on these values, but the result was offensive to the totalitarian regime.” After coming to Canada, Su found it was a suitable place to fulfill his personal philosophy of life.

He has fulfilled what he thinks was his responsibility and obligation in China. “As a man I have done what I should do, and I have said what I ought to say.”

Su pointed out that in universities around the world, the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences are studied. But, according to Su, in mainland China only social sciences and natural sciences are taught.

“There is no humanity, which means negating the human, human nature, human culture, and the human spirit,” Su said. “The Communist Party idea was, ‘by means of natural sciences to solve social problems,’ but I think this is erroneous.”

Despite being suppressed by the CCP, Su still insisted on living by his own personal values. He said, “We are born as a human, which is a great blessing and pleasure. We should act according to our values in life.”

Many Chinese who came to Canada were unable to fit in because they thought that the cultural differences between Asian and Western people were a major obstacle.

“The cultures that can last for thousands of years are all human cultures,” Su said. “Confucius said that people’s natures are the same, but their habits become widely different, which means that humanity is the same, but there are differences in living habits.”

Since coming to Canada at age 39, Su Ming has been diligently learning English and adapted well to Canadian society. He has worked for the Toronto City Government for a long time, and he has never stopped struggling for freedom and democracy in China.

Su summed up why he can never stop talking about the communist system: “The communists are still going crazy there. Surely, I cannot stop talking about this thing as long as I am alive. If Chinese people keep on enduring that system, this will make the people’s attitudes shift from support, to sympathy, to pity. Then it will be all over for the Chinese people.”

Serving the Community

Li Shude never spoke in public while living in Hong Kong. He told The Epoch Times, “I didn’t go to any demonstrations when I lived in Hong Kong. Even if I had something to say, I didn’t want to say it.”

At that time, Li only cared about having a good job and building a family. Later, he thought it would be better to go to Canada to study. Li visited Canada on vacation the year before he studied there. He was impressed with the multi-culturalism and harmony of the Canadian society.

“Since I arrived in Canada, my horizon has expanded. I thought this was a very good place,” Li said. He noted that one could see everything in the world through Canada’s news media.

Li arrived in Canada at age 26. Feeling more relaxed in Canadian society, he participated in the protest against the W5 show’s treatment of Chinese (W5 is a long-running newsmagazine show on CTV. In September 1979 W5 broadcast a report called “Campus Giveaways” that was later judged to be racist in its depiction of Chinese-Canadians attending Canadian universities).

Li participated in this demonstration because he was concerned that W5’s report would affect future prospects for Chinese students attending Canadian universities.

Later the station apologized for the broadcast. Li said, “I spoke up against an injustice, and it worked.”

After the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, 1989, Li became more concerned with human rights in China. He said, “I thought that the Chinese students were truly impressive because they were able [to speak up] even in such an environment [as China]. We live in Canada and have such a good environment, so there is no excuse to remain silent.”

Now Li is president of the Canada-Hong Kong Link and has established the Vision Youth Leadership Program. He hopes Chinese-Canadian youth can care about society and others. “I hope they can continue our work.”

As an accomplished IT engineer, Li believes professional development is important for an immigrant, but he or she cannot ignore community service and human rights either. “We have an obligation to speak up, especially for the many who have no voice in China.”

He believes the core values of human life are to first achieve a stable living condition and then to contribute to society.

Telling the Truth

Canadian citizen Zhang Kunlun spends his days meticulously sculpting and painting works of fine art depicting scenes of the heavens, replete with Buddhist iconography and symbolism.

“When you draw a line, all your information such as your quality, morality, life experience, and even your health have been put into it,” explains the former art professor. “It is the reflection of your inner nature. So an artist must be a noble and moral person, and be a thoughtful person.”

There’s no doubt that Zhang’s life experiences show through his artwork. One of his oil paintings, “The Red Wall,” symbolically depicts the reign of the Chinese Communist Party as a red, crumbling wall. The characters for “suppression” are incised onto it.

A man, stripped down to his underwear, is shackled against the wall, tortured, but his spirit resilient. Another practices meditation with a steely determination as he is doused with ice water. And yet another stands in a torturous position against the wall as Chinese police stand watch.

The painting, says Zhang, is representative of what he went through when he returned to China in 2000 to tend to his elderly mother-in-law.

In July, 2000, Zhang was taken into police custody because he practiced the spiritual discipline of Falun Gong. Zhang was sent to a detention center where 18 detainees were crammed into a space of 20 square meters.

Zang was fined 10,000 Yuan (US$1,630; according to official statistics, in 1999 the average annual salary in the sector of education and culture in China was 8,510 Yuan), was tortured with an electric baton so severely that he had difficulty walking for three months, and was forced to sit straight on a small bench day and night watching propaganda films attacking his spiritual belief.

“Their goal was to keep us from having even one minute to be able to think independently,” said Zhang. Those who protested against the treatment or attempted to practice Falun Gong meditation were sometimes burned or beaten unconscious.

In December, Zhang was transferred to the Wangchun Labor Camp, where the indoctrination and psychological torture escalated to a new level. Zhang was under constant surveillance by four or five people who surrounded him constantly debating him and attempting to discredit Falun Gong.

“I was monitored twenty-four hours a day by a group of policemen. After days and nights of endless brainwashing, deception, coercion, and psychological attacks, I almost collapsed. Such mental torture was even worse than physical torture.”

With the help of Amnesty International and the Canadian government, Zhang was released early from detention on January 10, 2001, and returned home to Canada with a renewed determination to expose the persecution he had been through.

In 2003, Zhang and a number of other Falun Gong artists began working on an art exhibit that would depict the treatment of practitioners in China. Their purpose is not just to raise awareness of the persecution in China, he says, but also to inspire positive values of courage, kindness, and purity. Since then, their art exhibit has toured the world, touching audiences everywhere it goes.

Zhang says that since taking up Falun Gong, the quality of his work has improved substantially.

“Throughout their entire lives, these artists had searched for a pure and unblemished way to express themselves through their art but couldn’t find it, Zhang said, describing his colleagues in the Art of Zhen, Shan, Ren (Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance) International Art Exhibition. “They were only able to recover their pure mindsets through Falun Gong practice.”

“After they purified their minds, they have been able to free themselves of the influence of innumerable notions and found their true identities. Only then were they able to express the sides of themselves that are naturally good and kind,” said Zhang.

Zhang believes that if he can convey Falun Gong’s principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance through his art, he can, in his own way, make the world a better place, and one which will be safe from persecution for generations to come.

“The reason [former CCP leader] Jiang Zemin and the Communist regime could persecute Falun Gong is that they have attacked and destroyed traditional values and morality, turning China into a mess,” Zhang said.

“I want to tell people a truth through my painting. In the universe there is a principle that nobody can escape: Good deeds will be rewarded with good, while wrongdoing and malicious deeds will meet with retribution,” Zhang said.

“Falun Gong teaches people to be good people, but the [Communist regime] brutally persecutes them,” Zhang said. “For everyone, their attitudes and behavior will determine their future.”

Translation and research by Xiangyu Ding. The section on Zhang Kulun was adapted with permission from the article “Zhang Kunlun: A Canadian Tortured in China”  by the Falun Dafa Information Center.